Saturday marks 40 years since the California Condor Conservation program began at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
On August 13, 1982, the first California Condor arrived at the Safari Park, in an effort to save the species from extinction. At the time, Xol-Xol was one of just 22 birds left in the wild.
“It was a fight to bring these birds in and make an attempt to save them,” said Wildlife Care Specialist Erin Massey.
Four decades later, Massey said, the fight is not over. “We’re just in the 500s right now, so this animal is still – it’s a critically endangered animal.”
Massey has been working with the California Condor Conservation Program for 13 years and said the same threats that nearly wiped out the population – habitat loss, poaching and lead poisoning – still exist today.
“The number one cause of mortality for these animals in the wild is lead poisoning,” she said. “These guys are vultures. They’re really large vultures. So, when they come into contact with something that has been shot with lead ammunition, they consume large quantities of that and it’s toxic. It’s toxic to every living creature on the planet.”
Like all living creatures, Massey said the California Condor is vital to our ecosystem.
“They’re responsible for consuming over 70 percent of the world’s carcasses. So, if these guys weren’t around, especially these big ones that can take care of so much in one sitting, we’d be in a lot of trouble. The planet would be in a lot of trouble.”
Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Wildlife Care Specialists like Massey and birds like Xol-Xol, who has fathered more than 40 chicks since he first arrived, the planet and the California Condor population are in far less trouble today.
“I still can’t believe that I get to do it some days. It’s pretty – it’s pretty exciting,” Massey said.
The Safari Park is one of the few places in California where you can go to actually see California Condors in person. You can also check out the park’s Condor Cam for a live look inside the California Condor Breeding Facility.